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Keene State delays start of spring semester to Feb. 15
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With COVID-19 cases continuing to surge through the holiday season, Keene State College announced it will begin the spring semester three weeks later than previously planned, with classes now slated to start Feb. 15.

“I believe our best and most successful semester will occur if we delay our on-campus return,” President Melinda Treadwell said in a video announcing the change.

“... We have been, for the past several weeks, looking at scientific models, predictions for the virus and been working with our faculty, hearing from our students and trying to make the right decision for our return at Keene State,” Treadwell said in the video, which was posted on the Keene State website Dec. 18. “Our top priority is your safety, and the safety of our community.”

Keene State spokeswoman Kelly Ricaurte said Tuesday that college leaders have been consulting the school’s COVID-19 Risk Mitigation and Management Plan, and monitoring coronavirus case rates in New Hampshire and surrounding states.

“Models predict that January 15-23 are times for peak incidence rates and hospitalizations, which is an important consideration for the delay,” she said in an email. “We anticipate lower incidence rates by mid-February.”

Keene State will not have a spring break, primarily to limit potential coronavirus exposure through travel, so classes will continue uninterrupted through May 21. Students will get a reading day on Monday, May 24, before final exams, which will conclude on May 28.

“I know this is a challenging message to hear,” Treadwell said. But the delay, she added, makes it more likely that the college can provide an effective student experience this spring and “a successful on-campus completion for commencement for our graduating seniors.”

According to Keene State’s website, officials “are cautiously optimistic that commencement will take place on May 29.”

“The size and scope of the event will depend on the risks associated with COVID-19 at KSC, in Keene, and in the states that our graduates call home,” Treadwell wrote in a message on a webpage dedicated to Keene State’s commencement plans.

Keene State previously planned to welcome students back to campus Jan. 25. Students did not return to Keene after Thanksgiving break, a step the college took to limit the potential spread of COVID-19 after holiday travel, and finished the first semester with virtual final exams that concluded Dec. 5.

Before students and employees return to Keene State in mid-February, they will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Ricaurte said drive-up testing will be available on campus through January and early February for all employees and students who need to be on campus early, such as some nursing students.

“The rest of pre-arrival COVID testing for students will be provided in early February leading up to the February 15 return,” Ricaurte said. “We will be sharing details about this in mid-January with students and families, and we are working to accommodate families, while ensuring timely test results and a smooth start to the semester.”

Keene State also will continue testing all students and staff weekly throughout the spring semester. Treadwell said previously that weekly mass testing was key to the college’s ability to keep students on campus throughout the fall semester by limiting the spread of the virus, along with measures such as mask-wearing and physical distancing on campus, and restricting the number of students in dorms and classrooms.

Over the course of the first semester, Keene State conducted more than 40,000 COVID-19 tests, finding a total of 78 cases of the viral respiratory illness, according to the college’s online COVID-19 dashboard. Keene State has about 3,200 students and roughly 700 employees.

The process for Keene State’s weekly mass testing will remain the same in the spring as it was throughout the fall. Each Thursday and Friday, all students and employees are assigned a time slot to come through Spaulding Gymnasium, where representatives from Stewart’s Ambulance Service collect samples by taking nasal swabs.

After getting tested, all students and employees receive a wristband, which is a different color each week. No one is allowed in any buildings on campus unless they are wearing the correctly colored wristband.

Keene State students will have the option to take four different types of classes in the spring semester: in-person, online, hybrid and blended. Hybrid classes offer a mix of in-person and online learning, with groups of students rotating days they receive in-person instruction. Blended courses feature in-class teaching, along with online components that can be completed anytime outside of class.

Like everything else in 2020, ringing in the New Year will look different

There haven’t been any big gatherings this year that haven’t been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, be it holidays, weddings, summer outings or family festivities.

New Years Eve, one of the biggest get-togethers on the calendar — in terms of number of people and celebrations — will not be exempt.

While you should be able to find a night out that fits your normal level of New Year’s Eve celebrating, you may have to search a little harder and be accepting of following many precautions set up to ensure safety for staff and revelers.

One of the biggest events in the Granite State — which attracts locals and out-of-state visitors alike — is New Year’s Eve Partybration at Santa’s Village in Jefferson. But the destination for both children and adults, that features Santa and Mrs. Claus, elves and reindeer, rides, food and drink, DJs and fireworks just wasn’t feasible, according to Jim Miller, one of “Santa’s Helpers.”

“We just figured it would be near impossible to do (Partybration) the way people have come to expect,” Miller said. “Even with the (state and Centers for Disease Control) restrictions eased ... we still were pretty much at capacity in November and December. Even though logistically we can do 35 percent capacity we would have had to charge a different rate visitors are used to paying.

“Between logistics and finances, to put on a safe event when we weren’t open in November and December it just wasn’t going to happen for us. We tried as hard as we could, running through different scenarios. But Labor Day came and we made a decision that was in everyone’s best interest long-term. If we weren’t going to be open in November and December we couldn’t just open for one day on Dec. 31.”

Abigail Querrard of Whitefield, 10 miles southwest of Santa’s Village, had planned on attending this year’s event like she, her husband Denis, and daughter Lucy, 5 have the past two years.

“New Year’s Eve at Santa’s Village is wonderful,” Querrard said. “Everyone is happy, the food is unlimited, there are a lot of warming areas and there is a countdown at 8 p.m. so (people) can get kids home early.”

The Querrards will instead stay at home, watch movies, eat popcorn and still have a countdown at 8 p.m.

“We are definitely disappointed because we’ve enjoyed it the past couple years,” she said “But I get it.

“Lucy was a little sad. But for a 5-year-old she has a great understanding of (coronavirus) and she knows people need to stay home.”

It was a difficult decision for Santa and all his helpers. With an already limited season that runs on weekends Memorial Day to mid-December and weekdays Father’s Day until Labor Day, the Mount Washington Valley amusement park had to close in mid-March like every other business in the state. It didn’t reopen until July 1.

“We’ve been having a Christmas season for over 20 years now and New Year’s for over 10 years, so that’s a tradition for a lot of people and is something people look forward to,” he added

Bretton Woods and Omni Hotel, also in Jefferson, is another popular and well-attended New Year’s destination in New Hampshire.

Normally a multi-day event that features fine food, adult and family activities, exercise, movies and more, this year’s welcoming of 2021 will have a much different look.

In addition to limiting dinners to only guests of the hotel, there will not be a large party in the grand ballroom like year’s past when each dining room’s guests converge for one big gala event. Instead there will be champagne, truffles and party accoutrements in each room. There will be fireworks for guests only.

“With any decision we make at Bretton Woods, we put a lot of thought and discussion into it,” said Craig Clemmer, director of marketing. “We feel we made a choice that made the most sense for the resort and our guests. We feel we did the safest thing possible for people to come up and feel safest. We are in the hospitality business after all.

“This year is obviously going to be a little bit different but we are excited to have lodging available and have people in the hotel.”

For those who will be in the Mount Washington Valley there will still be a fair amount of options to celebrate the days leading up to 2021, including fireworks in Schouler Park in North Conway; the Conway Scenic Railroad rides in North Conway; and tubing at Cranmore Tubing Park in North Conway, King Pine Tubing Park in Madison, and Great Glen Snowtubing Park in Gorham.

And, of course, there is always skiing, snowboarding and cross country skiing at the many local resorts.

“I don’t think it’s the limited New Year’s Eve celebrations that will impact visitors to the Valley,” said Marti Mayne, public relations manager for the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce. “I think it’s the general trend toward people not traveling after hearing multiple messages to stay home this holiday season. The overall sentiment among travelers this holiday season is to stay very close to home. That’s what’s impacting travel to the Valley, not a lack of events.”

Lori Moore of Nashua has been careful when she opts to go out during the pandemic. If she doesn’t feel safe she has no qualms turning around and leaving an establishment.

That is why she feels comfortable attending the New Year’s event at Lynn’s 102 Tavern in Hudson. The night will be highlighted by karaoke hosted by Dave-O. The precautions the establishment has taken since the pandemic started — singers must have their own karaoke microphones, only solo singers, and performers sing outside — will be enforced on Dec. 31.

“I had no reservations going to Lynn’s on New Year’s Eve,” said Moore. “They are really safe and do a great job enforcing (their rules). I am very pleased with that. All the staff have masks on and there are hand sanitizers everywhere.

“Honestly, I am more afraid of drunks driving on the way home than catching COVID at Lynn’s.”

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NH meets many police reform deadlines, much left to be done

CONCORD — A long list of changes to the way New Hampshire police are recruited, trained, supervised and held accountable is about to move from the recommendation stage to implementation, with potentially far-reaching consequences for law enforcement and the public at large.

The Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency has been quietly at work since June. Although its meetings over the summer were public, they received little attention amid the noise of a national election, a public health crisis and a struggling economy.

That’s about to change with the new year, as legislation to implement the commission’s findings begins to work its way through the State House and the reality of what is being proposed becomes more apparent to the many stakeholders.

Some of the more controversial proposals, all of which have been endorsed by Gov. Chris Sununu, include requiring body cameras on all police, creating a state-level Misconduct Review Board to hear complaints of police misconduct and new guidelines on the use of force.

Sununu has asked the attorney general to lead the effort to craft legislation in those areas where new laws will be necessary. Once a draft of that legislation is prepared, Sununu will ask the majority and minority leaders in both the House and Senate to sponsor and shepherd the legislation through, according to his spokesman, Ben Vihstadt.

A quick reaction

New Hampshire lawmakers were among the first to react to calls for change after the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, handcuffed and pinned to the ground with a police officer’s knee on his neck. Just two months after the tragedy of May 25 set in motion a national reckoning on race and law enforcement, a bipartisan bill on criminal justice reform was signed into law by Sununu.

The July 16 signing codified a prohibition on the use of chokeholds by law enforcement, banned private prisons in the state and required officers to cross the “thin blue line” to report misconduct by their peers or supervisors. Lawmakers appropriated $100,000 to provide local police departments with funding to improve the psychological screening of law enforcement candidates.

But that was just the beginning.

One month earlier, on June 16, Sununu had issued an executive order creating the LEACT commission, with a broad mandate to examine virtually every area of policing, including training, procedures and community relations.

Chaired by Deputy Attorney General Jane Young, the 14-member panel included representatives from law enforcement, the courts, state agencies, Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, the ACLU and other stakeholders. After 10 weeks of deliberations that included verbal and written testimony and voluminous research, the commission issued its 48 recommendations.

Support from Sununu

Sununu expressed support for all of them, and in October issued an executive order on 20 recommendations that were within his power to implement immediately for state-run law enforcement agencies. Those included the creation of a Public Integrity Unit in the Department of Justice, changes to the psychological screening and recruitment procedures for new police hires, and new guidelines on the use of force.

The order also calls for a review of the procedures for certifying part-time officers and increased training on bias, ethics, de-escalation and interacting respectfully with trans and gender-nonconforming individuals.

Some of the most significant recommendations will require legislation to be enacted. Those include the Misconduct Review Board, the order on body cameras, compiling and releasing demographic data on all stops and arrests, and adding race to the state ID or driver’s license, with an opt-out option.

The recommendations also set the stage for release of the so-called “Laurie List,” the list of officers with credibility problems in court proceedings.

Sununu can order certain steps be taken within the state police and other law enforcement agencies under state control, but cannot dictate local policy for the 200-plus municipal and county departments.

“Municipalities need to make their own decisions regarding some of these recommendations and how they move them forward,” said commission member Ken Norton, executive director of the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Ambitious deadlines

The governor set some aggressive deadlines for the areas within his control. The attorney general had until Nov. 11 to establish a Public Integrity Unit, create a community outreach position and order training on implicit bias and racial profiling. Standardized mandated training for school resource officers was also supposed to be in place by that date.

The commissioner of public safety had until Dec. 7 to submit a plan for implementation of body cameras, and a plan to recruit and retain diverse law enforcement officers. And by February of next year, the state’s police academy must demonstrate that it has implemented all the new training requirements in the report. The deadline for all the provisions that can be implemented by executive order is July 1.

So far, agency heads have met those deadlines, are well on their way or have requested some extensions, based on updates posted monthly since Nov. 7 on the commission’s website.

The Department of Safety has issued a request for proposals on the purchase of body-worn cameras.

The attorney general has established a dedicated Public Integrity Unit charged with investigating and prosecuting alleged crimes by government officials, including law enforcement officials. The DOJ hosted an implicit bias training program in November, and is “reviewing several options for filling a community outreach position.”

What didn’t make the cut

Just as important as the recommendations to emerge from the commission are those that didn’t get off the table. The commission members agreed that no recommendation would be put forward without a unanimous vote, not counting abstentions.

So despite the urging of some members, the commission took no action on the question of qualified immunity, a judicial principle that protects law enforcement officers from civil prosecution. Also not making the cut were proposed restrictions on so-called “pretextual stops,” in which an officer pulls over a motorist for an alleged minor traffic or equipment violation and ends up charging a more serious crime.

The ACLU urged the commission to have the Department of Justice review its process for investigating officer-involved shootings and develop a procedure to include members of the public in those investigations, but that got no traction.

“We tried very diligently to walk that line of working with, not against, the police, and with, not against, the public … really trying to strike a balance between the needs of both sides,” said commission member Ahni Malachi, executive director of the state Commission on Human Rights.

The issue of pretextual stops and policies on use of force were not addressed individually, but should be covered in the new training programs, she said, adding that the question of qualified immunity proved too complex for the commission’s timetable.

“We had a lot of work to do in a very short period of time and we could have taken testimony for several weeks on qualified immunity … We did not have the time to give it the due diligence it deserves,” she said.

There was also strong opposition voiced to any changes in qualified immunity by John Scippa, head of the state’s police academy, and others in law enforcement. According to Scippa, “Without qualified immunity, officers will hesitate to make decisions on the enforcement of law and will not proactively attempt to identify and arrest criminals because they will fear that their good faith efforts will expose them to frivolous civil lawsuits.”

When it came to the matters that failed, the votes weren’t there.

Joseph Lascaze, a first-generation American whose parents moved here from Haiti, represented the ACLU on the commission. “There may be some issues we disagreed on,” he said, “but it’s clear that measurable progress is being made, and we’re happy to be a part of it. We’re also very encouraged that Gov. Sununu is taking this seriously.”

Optimism about progress

Sununu is optimistic that the bills will become law. “These issues are incredibly important and should not be political,” he said in announcing his support. “I am confident these reforms, which received unanimous support from the commission, will be enacted with bipartisan support. And, as I have long said, cost will not be a barrier to implementation.”

As the proposals move from the commission into the State House, the process is likely to become more adversarial.

Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis, head of the N.H. Chiefs of Police Association, says he has not heard of much opposition from rank-and-file officers to the commission’s report.

“There were several people representing law enforcement on that commission and we were unanimous on all the recommendations,” he said. “I believe law enforcement will support the recommendations in the Legislature.”

Robin Malone, president of the N.H. Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, is not so sure. She recently told Center Square New Hampshire, a local news website, that “there has been pushback from police unions and law enforcement associations opposed to some of the reforms.”

“Policing generally is founded on, and perpetuates, a lot of racist policies,” she said. “It’s a system that has a lot of bias built into it and trying to work those out is going to take some deliberate effort on the part of everyone involved. The effort has to start with an acknowledgment that there is an issue with bias in policing. I think some people are not yet willing to do that.”

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COVID relief package to send $2 billion to NH

An estimated $2 billion is headed to New Hampshire for COVID-related relief efforts. The money comes from the emergency coronavirus relief package that President Trump signed into law Sunday.

Here’s how some of that money will be spent:

* Approximately $685 million will go to fund unemployment insurance.

* Over $600 million will come in the form of direct payments to approximately 620,000 New Hampshire residents.

* Another $200 million is earmarked for emergency rental assistance, which people use to cover past due rent, future rent payments, and utility costs.

* An estimated $183 million will cover “testing, tracing and COVID mitigation funding” and around $36 million will go to COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration.

Schools are also getting a significant boost, far bigger than they saw in the first federal coronavirus relief bill in April. Of the approximately $258 million earmarked for the state’s educational institutions, public school districts will receive over $156 million. Colleges and universities will get approximately $91 million.

U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan praised the additional aid for schools but said she would “continue pushing for additional resources to help our state and country recover from this unprecedented public health and economic crisis.”

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen also said there was more work to be done.

“This emergency relief will help Granite Staters and Americans over the next few months, but to ensure our communities have the long-term help necessary to recover and rebuild from this economic crisis, further aid will be needed,” said Shaheen. “Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and from both chambers of Congress came together to deliver this last package — next month we will get to work to do that again.”